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And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Dodgers 6, Cardinals 0: We got guys working overtime right now to come up with new adjectives for Clayton Kershaw, because we’ve burnt the hell through our entire 2014 supply already. The best pitcher in baseball struck out 13 Cardinals in seven shutout innings today, reducing his ERA to 2.04 and pushing his K/BB ratio to 107/11 in 79.1 innings. He’s currently rolling with a 28-inning scoreless streak. Andre Ethier hit a three-run homer, but man, it’s not like Kershaw even needed the help.

Mariners 3, Indians 0: Kershaw isn’t the only ace challenging our ability to describe his greatness this year. Felix Hernandez has always been amazing, but he’s on a whole new level in 2014. For one thing, having ten wins at the halfway point of a season is something different for him. The earliest he’s ever notched his 10th win was in 2009 when he did it on July 17. That year he won 19. This year he’s 10-2 with a 2.10 ERA with a K/BB ratio of 137/22 in 128.1 innings. That after the eight innings of one-hit ball he threw while striking out nine Indians today.

Reds 4, Giants 0: Homer Bailey isn’t quite the pitcher Kershaw and Hernandez are, but he’s pretty damn good. Yesterday he took a no-hitter into the seventh and finished with a three-hit shutout of the reeling San Francisco Giants. The reeling San Francisco Giants who now find themselves in a mathematical tie with the Dodgers in the NL West, one game better in the loss column, but spinning out of control all the same. They’ve dropped six of seven.

Rockies 10, Brewers 4: Last Sunday the Rockies were a laughing stock after a weekend in which they threw the ball all over the place and literally fell down on the basepaths. On this Sunday they were the beneficiaries of the other team playing less-than-Little-League-quality defense to let the Rockies stroll around the bases unmolested. Not that they were perfect: Jorge De La Rosa threw three wild pitches and hit a batter. He still got the win, though. It was the Rockies first win against the Brewers all season. It was also their last game against the Brewers all season.

Twins 3, Rangers 2: Kendrys Morales hit an RBI double to break a 2-2- tie in the ninth. They shifted right against the lefty Morales, and the lefty Morales slapped it down the left field line. Between having to run a long way to get back to that shift-beating ball, it took a weird bounce off the wall too, allowing the go-ahead and ultimately winning run score.

Pirates 5, Mets 2: Former Met Ike Davis hit a two-run single in the first off Bartolo Colon and the Pirates took a 5-0 lead after four. Pedro Alvarez had a home and an RBI double. Colon had one idea about why the Pirates were able to get to him:

“I just think that because I’ve already gone against them once they probably prepared so they knew what I was coming with. They just had the time to prepare to play against me.”

Bartolo, you’ve been pitching in the bigs since the Clinton Administration. Everyone has had a chance to see you.

Astros 6, Tigers 4: Jose Altuve is on fire. Three hits and two stolen bases today and he went 9 for 14 in the series against Detroit. He’s stolen two bases in four straight games and 10 overall in his last six. He’s batting .347 on the year.

Braves 3, Phillies 2: A four game sweep. And, for some reason, none of the Philly people who tweeted smack at me when the Phillies took three in a row from the Braves a couple of weeks ago tweeted at me during this series. Huh. This was the first four-game sweep in Philadelphia by the Braves since Sept. 24-27, 1964. That was at the tail end of that historic collapse by Philly that season. Which, hey, that may be bad, but at least they had some success from which to collapse then.

Royals 5, Angels 4: Lorenzo Cain had four hits, including three doubles, and drove in two. Omar Infante drove in the winning run in the ninth, but this game shoulda gone extras. Before Infante’s big hit Erik Aybar and Howie Kendrick muffed what should’ve been an inning-ending double play, allowing the guy who scored the winning run to move into scoring position. “You can’t assume the double—OW!”  Sorry, had to smack that cliche-spewing voice in my head across the back of the neck.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $30,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Monday night’s MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on MondayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Athletics 4, Marlins 3: Nate Freiman was called up from Sacramento, flew across country, barely slept and then hit a three-run homer in his 2014 debut. Not bad. Also not bad: The A’s winning all three games in Miami by coming from behind.  Four wins in a row overall. Oakland is at its exact halfway point of the 2014 season and has 51 wins.

Rays 12, Orioles 7: Two homers for Matt Joyce, who had five hits and four RBI in all. The Rays had five homers and six doubles in this one. That’s, like, a month’s output for that offense.

White Sox 4, Blue Jays 0: Jose Quintana had seven shutout innings. That creep can roll, man. Jose Abreu had an RBI single to extend his hitting streak to 14 games.

Padres 2, Diamondbacks 1:  Odrisamer Despaigne with his second start and, once again, a stingy performance and a win. It’s junk and funk and angles and smoke and mirrors, but who cares? All of those things are really cool.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 5: Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz each drove in three, Ortiz on the power of his 450th career home run. The Red Sox take two of three from their rivals, who themselves have lost six of eight.

Indians sign reliever Tommy Hunter to $2 million deal

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that right-hander Tommy Hunter has agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with the Indians. It’s a major-league deal, so Hunter gets a spot on the 40-man roster and will be in the Opening Day bullpen if he’s fully recovered from core muscle surgery.

Hunter split last season between the Orioles and Cubs, totaling 60 innings with a 4.18 ERA and 47/14 K/BB ratio. He had a sub-3.00 ERA in both 2013 and 2014, and has generally been a setup-caliber reliever since shifting to the bullpen full time.

He has good control and a mid-90s fastball, but Hunter has never missed many bats despite the big-time velocity and often struggles to keep the ball in the ballpark. He’ll likely fill a middle relief role in Cleveland initially.

“YER OUT!” Jenrry Mejia permanently suspended for a third positive PED test

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You knew someone would be dumb enough to do this eventually, you just didn’t know who. Now we do: MLB just announced that reliever Jenrry Mejia has been permanently suspended after testing positive for Boldenone. That was his third positive test and under the Joint Drug Agreement that means his career is more or less over.

Mejia’s three strikes came in pretty rapid succession. On April 11, 2015 it was announced that Mejía had been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for use of stanozolol. On July 28, 2015 it was announced that Mejia had failed a test for Stanozolol again and Boldenone to boot, giving him a 162-game suspension, which he’d still be serving at the beggining of the season. Now this third test.

Mejia has played five seasons in the big. He started with so much promise, looking like a great prospect coming up. His performance only matched the promise in fits and starts, however, resulting in a 9-14 record with a 3.68 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 162/76 in 183.1 innings, all with the Mets.

Per the rules of the Joint Drug Agreement, Mejia can apply for reinstatement after being banned for two years. But it would obviously require him to spend two years doing a lot of smart things he hasn’t been doing in the past year. And it would also represent a near-unprecedented comeback. It could happen, I suppose, but it’s a far safer bet that his career is over.

I’m going to break it to you: some teams will stink this year. Like every year.

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There’s an AP story out today talking about how — brace yourself — some teams are going to be bad this year. It’s true. There are some teams, such as Atlanta, Philly, Colorado, Cincinnati and probably Milwaukee who seem certain to lose a lot of games.  The article’s author notes that, while a lot of money was spent in free agency this winter, not everyone was spending. He says “for some clubs, 2016 is basically over before it starts when it comes to contending.”

That sort of framing sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Isn’t it exactly the sort of thing we heard back in the early 2000s when people were still stumping for salary caps? Boston and New York were outspending everyone, the low money teams couldn’t keep up and, as spring training dawned, the season was over before it even began for half the league at least. There were scads of articles like that written 10-15 years ago. Bud Selig and others even used that exact construction — teams going to spring training already knowing they couldn’t compete — as points of rhetoric in the leadup to the 2002 labor battle with the players. Indeed, here’s the exact language from the 2000 Blue Ribbon economic report that Bud Selig commissioned which, by the way, should be read as a piece of labor propaganda, not as an actually useful or illuminative report:

What has made baseball’s recent seasons disturbing, and what makes its current economic structure untenable in the long run, is that, year after year, too many clubs know in spring training that they have no realistic prospect of reaching postseason play. Too many clubs in low-revenue markets can only expect to compete for postseason berths if ownership is willing to incur staggering operating losses to subsidize a competitive player payroll.

Different circumstances, obviously, but the same general bogeyman: some teams have no chance to compete!

Using that as the concern for whatever ails baseball has never made much sense to me as there will always be teams that are bad. Really, go look at any year’s league standings going back to the 19th century and there will be bad teams. It’s sort of the other side of the coin of good teams. Hard to have one without the other. And it’s probably a good thing to have some good and some and teams. Who wants a total crapshoot every year? What is this, Lake Woebegone, where every team is above .500? God, how boring.

The real issue is not that some teams will be good and some will be bad. It’s why they’ll be good and why they’ll be bad and whether the dynamic which creates good and bad teams is itself positive or negative for the game.

In the 40s and 50s, almost the entire American League knew that it had no chance to compete with the Yankees but they kind of liked that because they were making a lot of money not fielding competitive clubs. That was bad. In the late 1990s maybe some felt the same way too and it was because of no revenue sharing or incompetent management. Not great, and a lot of tweaks were made. Now a small handful of teams can’t compete because they’re doing wholesale rebuilds which some people call “tanking” and others think is not an issue.

As I recently wrote, to the extent people do think “tanking” is a problem, it’s important to (a) put it in perspective; and (b) look at the incentives teams have to tank and talk about whether they should be adjusted. As far as the perspective part goes, I’d say that only having five or six out of 30 teams with no realistic shot is actually pretty good compared to other points in baseball history. There’s a lot more parity now than there used to be. As far as the incentives: look at the dumb draft rules which were imposed to save owners a buck when it came to paying amateurs but which GREATLY increases the importance of picking high and thus losing.

The AP article touches on that, but it’s buried fairly deep down, well after the hand-wringing about teams entering spring training with no chance to win. As spring training progresses, there will likely be a lot of talk of just how bad some of these rebuilding teams will be as well. Most of that analysis will stop at the current state of the team and the hopelessness the fan bases are supposed to be feeling.

As a critically-minded fan, don’t let it stop there. If your team stinks, think about why it does and why it’s pursuing the course it is. Twenty years ago you could probably be safe in saying “well, my team’s GM is dumb and the owner is cheap.” That’s not really the case for most teams now. Now, I think, it’s far more about the incentives in play which make putting a lousy product on the field in the short term preferable to not doing so. Call it tanking, call it whatever you want, but if this is concern for you — and if this is a problem for Major League Baseball — the focus needs to be on the incentives.  Not on the fact that some teams are going to stink. Because teams will always stink. The important question is why.

Marlins sign left-hander Craig Breslow

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After spending the past four seasons in the Red Sox’s bullpen left-hander Craig Breslow has signed with the Marlins on a minor-league deal.

Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports that the contract comes with an invitation to spring training and will pay $1.5 million if Breslow makes the Opening Day roster.

Brewslow has struggled in back-to-back seasons, posting a 5.96 ERA in 2014 and a 4.15 ERA last year. At age 35 he’s not a great bet to bounce back in a huge way, but Breslow posted a 1.81 ERA as recently as 2013 and is certainly still capable of being a useful middle reliever.